|Darren Millar AM|
|Hefin David AM|
|Julie Morgan AM|
|Llyr Gruffydd AM|
|Lynne Neagle AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Mark Reckless AM|
|Angharad Starr||Rheolwr Prosiect, Mudiad Meithrin|
|Project Manager, Mudiad Meithrin|
|Cerys Furlong||Prif Weithredwr, Chwarae Teg|
|Chief Executive, Chwarae Teg|
|Claire Protheroe||Rheolwr Gwasanaethau Uniongyrchol, PACEY Cymru|
|Direct Services Manager, PACEY Cymru|
|Jane Alexander||Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Cymdeithas Darparwyr Cyn-ysgol Cymru|
|Chief Executive Officer, Wales Pre-school Providers Association|
|Jane O’Toole||Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs|
|Chief Executive Officer, Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs|
|Phil Mattacks||Tîm Dylunio, Ymgysylltu a Gweithredu Gofal Plant Di-dreth, Cyllid a Thollau Ei Mawrhydi|
|Tax-free Childcare Design, Engagement and Rollout Team, HM Revenue and Customs|
|Sandra Welsby||Rheolwr Cenedlaethol, Cymdeithas Genedlaethol Meithrinfeydd Dydd Cymru|
|National Manager, National Day Nurseries Association Cymru|
|Lisa Salkeld||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy Glerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau||1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest|
|2. Bil Cyllid Gofal Plant (Cymru): Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 3||2. Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill: Evidence Session 3|
|3. Bil Cyllid Gofal Plant (Cymru): Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 4||3. Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill: Evidence Session 4|
|4. Bil Cyllid Gofal Plant (Cymru): Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 5||4. Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill: Evidence Session 5|
|5. Papurau i'w Nodi||5. Papers to Note|
|6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Weddill y Cyfarfod||6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to Resolve to Exclude the Public for the Remainder of the Meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:31.
The meeting began at 09:31.
Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee. We've received apologies for absence from John Griffiths and Michelle Brown. Can I ask Members if there are any declarations of interest, please? No. Okay. Thank you.
Item 2 this morning, then, is an evidence session with Cwlwm on the Childcare Funding (Wales) Bill. I'm very pleased to see you all. Thank you for coming. Can I just ask if you can introduce yourselves and say which organisation you're from, for the record, please?
Sandra Welsby, National Day Nurseries Association Cymru.
Jane O’Toole, Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs.
Claire Protheroe, Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years Cymru.
Angharad Starr, Mudiad Meithrin.
Jane Alexander, Wales Pre-school Providers Association.
Thank you all for attending. I know that you all submitted individual papers as well as the joint paper, so thank you very much for that as well. We'll go straight into questions, and the first questions are from Llyr Gruffydd.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Bore da, bawb. Rydw i'n mynd i ofyn fy nghwestiynau yn Gymraeg. Felly, os oes angen offer cyfieithu, mae croeso i chi ei ddefnyddio. Roeddwn i'n gweld yn eich tystiolaeth chi eich bod chi'n dweud bod Cwlwm yn cytuno bod y pwerau yn y Bil i Weinidogion wneud is-ddeddfwriaeth yn briodol. Rydw i jest yn wyndro beth yw'ch rhesymeg chi dros hynny, oherwydd mae yna lawer iawn o agweddau neu fanylion sylfaenol y cynnig gofal sydd ddim ar wyneb y Bil. Nid yw hyd yn oed yn dweud pa blant sy'n gymwys, ac yn y blaen. Felly, rwyf i jest eisiau eich rhesymeg chi am pam eich bod chi'n teimlo ei bod hi'n ddiogel i adael hynny i gyd i reoliadau.
Thank you very much. Good morning, everyone. I'm going to ask my questions in Welsh. So, if you need to use the headsets, you're welcome to do so. I saw in your written evidence that you say that Cwlwm agrees that the powers in the Bill for Welsh Ministers to make subordinate legislation are appropriate. I just wonder what your rationale is for that, because there are many basic details of the childcare offer that are not on the face of the Bill. It doesn't even say which children are eligible, and so forth. So, I just want your rationale as to why you feel it's safe to leave that to regulations.
If I start, I think some of my colleagues will probably join in. I think we understood this Bill to be about the administration of the funding for the childcare offer and the measure of the eligibility, and I think it was on that basis that we've responded. We haven't gone wider to look at that detail.
We thought that the need for the Bill was around the administration and eligibility, using HMRC for checking the eligibility, and it would allow Welsh Government to be responsive to any other changes through regulation, rather than through the Bill.
A oes yna ofid, felly, y byddai'r agwedd hyblyg yna yn golygu efallai mewn rhai blynyddoedd y byddai'r cynnig yn cael ei leihau, tra bod y sector wedi adeiladu capasiti i ddelio â chynnig mwy? Onid ydych chi'n teimlo y byddai mwy o sicrwydd i chi fel sector petai yna fwy o fanylion ar wyneb y Bil?
Is there a concern, therefore, that that flexibility element could mean that in some years the offer could be reduced, while the sector has built capacity to deal with a larger offer? Don't you think that you'd have more assurance as a sector if there were more details on the face of the Bill?
Rwy'n credu, o'n hochr ni, y teimlad sydd gyda ni oedd y byddai cael y manylion yn y rheoliadau yn ein galluogi ni i ymateb i'r anghenion ar lawr gwlad yn haws na'u cael nhw ar wyneb y Bil ei hun, ac wrth inni drafod a datblygu’r rheoliadau yna byddai'n dod yn fwy clir i bawb beth yn union oedd yn cael ei gynnig ac i bwy.
I think, from our side, our view was having the details in the regulations would enable us to respond to the needs out there in the country more easily, rather than having them on the face of the Bill, and as we discuss and develop those regulations it would become clearer to everyone what precisely was being offered and to whom.
Mae hynny'n bwynt digon teg. Wrth graffu ar y Bil yma, mae rhywun yn sylwi bod y ddeddfwriaeth yn Lloegr, er enghraifft, yn cynnwys llawer o fanylion ar y Bil. Roeddwn i'n ei weld e'n wahanol iawn yng Nghymru. Felly, dyna fe. Iawn.
Mae'r Llywodraeth, wrth gwrs, wedi ymgynghori rhywfaint ar y cynnig polisi o safbwynt y cynnig gofal, ond nid oes ymgynghori wedi bod, fel y cyfryw, ar beth sydd yn y Bil. Fel roeddech chi'n ei ddweud, mae'n creu rhywbeth sydd yn eistedd ar wahân i'r polisi, mewn gwirionedd, ond yn hwyluso y polisi o safbwynt ei weithrediad. Gan nad oes yna ymgynghoriad wedi bod ar yr hyn sydd yn y Bil, sut gallwn ni fod yn hyderus bod y dull sy'n cael ei gynnig yn dderbyniol i rieni, a ble ydych chi'n meddwl y dylai manylion ynghylch, er enghraifft, sut yr ydych chi fel darparwyr yn mynd i gael eich talu, gael eu cynnwys? Os nad yw e yn y Bil, a ydych chi'n teimlo y dylai fe fod yn y rheoliadau neu yn y cynllun gweinyddu? Ble ydych chi'n teimlo rŷch chi'n cael mewnbwn i nifer o'r pethau yma, gan fod yna ddim ymgynghori wedi bod?
That's a fair enough point. In scrutinising the Bill, you do notice that the legislation in England does include a lot of those details in the Bill. We see it's very different in Wales. So, okay.
The Government has undertaken some consultation on the childcare offer, but has not consulted on what's in this Bill. As you said, it creates something that sits separate from the policy, but facilitates the policy in terms of its implementation. But, given that there hasn't been a consultation on what's in the Bill, how can we be confident that the approach that's proposed is acceptable to parents, and where do you think the details, in terms of how you as providers are going to be paid—where should that be included? If it's not in the Bill, do you feel that it should be in the regulations or in the administrative scheme? Where do you feel that you can have an input into these things, as there has been no consultation?
Shall I take this one? I feel that what we've talked about, again, is that it was the remit of the Bill initially. I think, from our point of view, giving that a national system that provides consistency to parents, families and providers across Wales would be welcomed. So, when we were agreeing with the Bill and the back-end system, as we would see it, that would mean then that there's a consistent system, rather than there being, as during the pilot, individual local authority eligibility checking, eligibility criteria and different processes and systems. So, we were feeling that anything that would remove those inconsistencies would be beneficial to anybody that's using the system.
I think, from a parental point of view, because of it being a back-end system, parents are going to just be interested in can they get their eligibility checked, is this consistent with other people and is it a simple and straightforward service. The same with providers as well. We know that there have been issues in England around the system—once HMRC have checked the eligibility, what happens after that point. That's where the inconsistencies come in in England. I think that's what's important—whether that's through regulations or other administration systems, that's what needs to be very carefully thought out in Wales.
But given that there hasn't been a consultation, where would those parents have had that opportunity to feed their views into this proposed Bill? That's my concern.
It's whether that happens—. I think we were under the impression, like I said, that this Bill was for a particular purpose and what would follow then after that obviously is outside of our understanding around what the systems would be.
I also think, at this stage, it is at the early implementer stage—a pilot stage—and so most parents across Wales are not accessing it; they're hearing about it. Therefore, if you were to consult on the actual mechanism at this stage, how meaningful would it be? I think they'd have to make comparisons with other ways in which their eligibility is checked, for example for tax-free childcare through HMRC. There isn't a context to actually consult with at this stage. I would say that people just want to know how it's going to happen. I think it's a really valid question, isn't it?
Well, it happens in other legislation, actually. There is a more thorough process.
How do parents put themselves in the position of something that most of them are not yet even able access on a pilot basis?
Because that's one of my concerns: that it is a pilot—it's very much a pilot at the moment. So, the Government themselves admit that they're still learning, that they're still finding new things out, and yet they've already laid the legislation telling us that, you know, this is how it's going to operate, really. Do you not see that that's a little bit too early to be tabling legislation?
I think that parents are already accessing the HMRC eligibility checking for tax-free childcare, and so it's a system that you would hope they're already familiar with. I know anecdotally through evidence through the early implementers that providing evidence—you know, physical, hard evidence to the local authorities—can be problematical, but with HMRC having that data and this Bill allowing HMRC to give Welsh Government and the local authorities that data without parents having to provide the physical evidence, we feel that that will be beneficial to parents, having used evidence from parents in other schemes for other grants. As far as our organisation is concerned, it's always been problematical: remembering where your working families tax credit award notice has been, trying to get hold of those. From our point of view, we, as an organisation, have used that scenario in looking at what we feel would be best for parents.
Byddwn i'n cytuno i raddau, achos rydym ni'n credu mai dyna ydy'r ffordd fwyaf hwylus i rieni, achos ni fyddan nhw ddim yn gorfod ailgyflwyno'r dystiolaeth i sawl asiantaeth wahanol wedyn.
I agree to some extent, because we feel that that is the easiest way for parents because then they don't have to pass the information on to several organisations.
Nid ydw i'n herio hynny, a dweud y gwir. Yr hyn rydw i'n meddwl y mae nifer ohonom ni'n stryglo gyda yw'r ffaith bod y ddeddfwriaeth yn eistedd ar wahân i'r polisi a bod yna ddim digon, yn fy marn i, beth bynnag, o gyswllt rhwng yr hyn y mae'r Llywodraeth yn dweud y maen nhw eisiau ei gyflawni mewn polisi a'r hyn sydd ar wyneb y Bil. Hynny yw, nid oes yna ddim byd yn y Bil sy'n golygu, o reidrwydd, y bydd y polisi'n cael ei ddelifro fel y maen nhw wedi'i amlinellu. Heblaw, efallai, am y geiriau 'rhieni sy'n gweithio' yn y frawddeg gyntaf, ond mae honno'n drafodaeth arall rydym ni wedi cychwyn ei chael gyda thystion hefyd.
I don't challenge that, to tell you the truth. What I think many of us struggle with is the fact that the legislation sits separately to the policy and that there is not enough, in my opinion, of a link between what the Government is saying that they want to do in policy and what's on the face of the Bill. That is, there's nothing in the Bill that means that the policy will be delivered as they've outlined it. Aside, perhaps, from the words 'working parents' in the first sentence, but that's a discussion that we've started with other witnesses.
It was just in relation to this issue of familiarity—that parents have familiarity with HMRC. Of course, a lot of them won't have familiarity with HMRC, will they, because a lot of people will not be accessing your childcare, in terms of your provision, at the moment, because they can't afford to. This Bill is designed to extend access to free childcare in a way that people will never have experienced before, outside of the pilot areas that have already been established. So, they're not going to be familiar with the HMRC way of doing things, are they?
If you think about the ones that would be accessing it, because it's a funded offer for working parents—so, tax-free childcare, the current scheme at the moment, would be through HMRC and would be, again, for working parents.
I get that for the existing people who are accessing that scheme, but this is designed for a lot of people who are not going to be accessing any scheme at all at the moment.
But I think, going forward, it's very important that we don't have 22 different ways of administering the childcare offer. So, to go with HMRC—that is something that they've got; the information with regard to tax credits, tax-free childcare, national insurance contributions et cetera—is the most simple way to go forward for the childcare offer.
Yn eich tystiolaeth ysgrifenedig, rydych chi'n nodi'r angen i sicrhau bod y broses o ailgadarnhau cymhwysedd ar gyfer cyllid yn hawdd i'w ddeall a bod darparwyr yn ateb mewn modd amserol ac na ddylai fod yna anfantais i rieni, gofalwyr na darparwyr. I ba raddau ydych chi'n meddwl bod angen diwygio'r Bil, os o gwbl, er mwyn mynd i'r afael â'r pryderon yna?
In your written evidence, you note the need to ensure that the process of reconfirming eligibility for funding is easy to understand and provides answers in a timely manner and that it should not disadvantage parents, carers or providers. To what extent do you think there's a need to amend the Bill, if at all, to deal with that concern?
I think that that concern should be through the regulations rather than the Bill. It should be addressed through the regulations rather than, actually, the Bill—any difficulties—to ensure that providers and parents are paid in a timely manner.
Eto, rydym ni'n dod yn ôl at beth sydd ar y Bil, beth sydd yn y rheoliadau, beth sydd yn y cynllun gweinyddu. Ac, wrth gwrs, mi fydd y diffiniad o bwy sy'n ddarparwr cymwys yn cael ei adael ar gyfer y cynllun gweinyddu, ond wrth gwrs, nid oes gan hwnnw ddim unrhyw sail gyfreithiol. Felly, i ba raddau ydych chi'n fodlon â hynny? Nid yw'n rhoi'r sicrwydd i chi, efallai, y byddech chi'n dymuno ei gael, byddwn i'n tybio.
Once again, we return to what is on the face of the Bill, what is in the regulations and what is in the administrative scheme. And, of course, the definition of who will be an eligible provider will be left to the administrative scheme, but of course, that has no legal basis. So, to what extent are you content with that approach? Because it doesn't give you the assurance that, perhaps, you would have liked to have had, or so I would have thought.
Rydw i'n credu, o'r ddealltwriaeth sydd gyda ni o'r trafodaethau hyd yn hyn, o'r elfen gofal plant 30 awr, y byddai angen i ddarparwyr fod wedi cofrestru gydag Arolygiaeth Gofal Cymru i allu darparu hynny. Felly, dim ond bod hynny wedi'i nodi yn rhywle, boed hynny o fewn y rheoliadau neu ar y Bil i hun, rydw i'n credu beth sy'n bwysig yw bod yna elfen o sicrhau ansawdd a safon y ddarpariaeth a sicrhau bod y ddarpariaeth yna yn cael ei chynllunio yn lleol i ateb y gofynion lleol. Mae'n bwysig.
I think, from the understanding that we have of the discussions so far, of the childcare element of 30 hours, the providers will need to have registered with Care Inspectorate Wales to provide that. Therefore, as long as that's been noted somewhere, whether that's in the regulations or the Bill itself, I think what's important is that the quality of the provision is assured and that that is planned locally to meet local needs. I think that's important.
Ocê. Felly, bydd hyn yn golygu na fydd nanis yn cael eu cynnwys wedyn. Dyna yw fy nghwestiwn nesaf i: a ydych chi'n credu, gan nad ydynt wedi cofrestru gydag Arolygiaeth Gofal Cymru, ei bod hi'n iawn i'w heithrio nhw?
So, that will mean that nannies will not be included then. That was my next question: do you think that because they're not registered with Care Inspectorate Wales, it is right to exempt them?
I think it's a difficult one. It's where you go with the eligibility to make it straightforward and simple and fair for all. Settings that do register go through a lot to become registered settings. We can see the criteria around that. However, with nannies, they don't have the opportunity to register. There is the voluntary approval scheme with CIW—Care Inspectorate Wales—and it's whether that needs to be looked at a little bit more. We're obviously aware—. We don't have a massive number of nannies in Wales, as they would do in England, for example, but obviously it will still impact on those that are nannies and have gone to the trouble of getting on to the voluntary approval scheme. But it's whether there's parity then in what's required for registered childcare and what's relevant to nannies. I think it needs some further thought.
A all PACEY ymhelaethu ar y pryderon rydych chi wedi'u mynegi: bod gwarchodwyr plant cofrestredig wedi'u heithrio mewn amgylchiadau lle maen nhw'n darparu gofal i blentyn sy'n perthyn iddyn nhw? Mae hwn yn rhywbeth sydd wedi codi yn flaenorol ac, yn amlwg, mae'n rhywbeth yr ydym ni, fel pwyllgor, yn awyddus i edrych arno ymhellach. So, byddwn i'n hoffi clywed mwy ynglŷn â'ch barn chi am hynny.
Could PACEY expand on the concerns that you've raised in terms of registered child minders being exempted in situations where they provide care to a child who's related to them? This is something that has been raised previously and it is, obviously, something that we, as a committee, are eager to look into further. So, I would like to hear a little more about your views on that.
We're having major issues that are being raised by us—by members who are part of the pilot at the moment or by child minders who will be looking to provide the offer in the future—around the change in guidance that happened in December. Prior to December, it had been clearly laid out, written down, by the Welsh Government that the only consideration was that you were a registered provider and that child minders could provide care for related children. That guidance was then rescinded in December and changed to be that they were exempt, if it was the definition of what a registered child minder was that's set within the regulations at the moment. We've been lobbying since then. I know that we've got some AM support at the Assembly, and that we've got support from other professionals and, I think, from some of the Welsh Government civil servants now that we've had some of these primary discussions around the way forward for this.
So, the key point from us is: to actually get registered in this day and age is not an easy process. If you're looking to register as a child minder, it takes a minimum of six months. You've got accredited training support and you've got your application to Care Inspectorate Wales. For us, that should be what the standing point is and what the criteria are to be able to deliver the offer. We feel very strongly that those who are then not able to access funding for the offer are being unfairly treated, really, because it's impacting on sustainability. They won't only lose children, potentially—related children who are looking to access the offer, who will have to move elsewhere—but the siblings of those children, because parents quite often want to have them in the same setting.
We've got a survey that's open at the moment that we've had ongoing since January, which is really looking at the number of people this is impacting on at the moment and the impact for the future. It's looking at quite a high percentage—around 35 per cent of registered child minders care for a child they're related to at the moment, so it's not an unusual situation. And, especially, we've been talking about the fact that if they lived in very rural communities, or Welsh-speaking communities, where, potentially, they're the only childcare provider in a small village, quite often they will have relatives—they will have nieces and nephews—because it's somewhere that the child's familiar with and where the child feels safe and secure. So, if you look at that, then—the sustainability of that setting—and the fact, then, that families can't access the childcare of their choice; and, putting the child at the centre, having to move a child from a setting that they're safe and secure with, moving to a setting where, potentially, they've got further to travel to—it's not in the best interests of anybody, from our point of view.
Could I ask how confident you are that the problems HMRC has had with delivery of the childcare eligibility systems won't affect the delivery of the Welsh childcare offer?
We're aware that there have been issues in England with regard to HMRC and the process. However, we believe that the way forward is the way that the Welsh Government are doing this—rolling it out with lessons learnt from other areas. We would hope that HMRC have got over these initial problems that have occurred, and that the Welsh Government will be assured that, with the full roll-out, all of these hiccups, or whatever, have been dealt with.
You refer to the HMRC problems in England, but is it your understanding that the major problem HMRC has had has been with the England expanded childcare offer or with the UK-wide tax-free childcare system?
I think, from my understanding, it was around the England childcare offer, not the tax-free childcare system.
Yes. I think, as well, on a further point, the issues that we—. Because we're an England-and-Wales organisation, we hear a lot of evidence that comes from our England colleagues and England members, and it's not so much around the HMRC route and eligibility there, but what happens after that point. So, a parent gets given the eligibility code from HMRC in order for them to access childcare. They then take that to a provider, the provider then has to go through the local authority and almost re-check eligibility, and all of the systems that work on the back end in individual local authorities, and the inconsistencies all feed in again. So, it's not so much, from our point of view, about the HMRC route for checking—it's about the process after that and getting payments to providers from individual local authorities.
In England, what was the rationale for having the local authorities re-checking if HMRC had already issued an eligibility code?
It was just around how it had been set down in the regulations about how the payments would be provided and the individual administration. So, from the point of view of an administration system, what has been taken out and interpreted by each individual local authority is that, before they can make a payment or sign off childcare, they almost need to re-check that code, so they're adding in extra layers all the time, which then become burdensome, really, on providers.
And the way the Bill is structured currently in Wales—should that avoid that problem?
I don't think—. Like we said, it doesn't cover that; it's just talking about the HMRC eligibility, so it's what happens next—those systems, maybe, that will fall under the content of the regulations going forward.
At the moment, the early implementers are having a gradual roll-out; it's quite controlled, and hopefully then, with the HMRC element, if that is handled in a similar way, then we can capture any difficulties that should arise that are particular to Wales. But we would hope that there are lessons learned from England along the way.
And the dual system, where we'll have the 10 hours universal offer, which is administered through local authorities and checking the child's age cohort, but then, in addition, or wrapped around that, you have this further 20 hours for which HMRC are providing the eligibility sign-off—are those two systems going to work and integrate well together? Or is it going to be a problem having the 10 hours through the local authority and then HMRC doing eligibility for the 20 hours?
I think it's going to be key in how much clarity we can provide to parents. My own experience of talking to parents is that they get a little bit confused at the moment with the foundation phase nursery offer, because it has a number of different definitions and names, and I think we're reaching a stage where that's now being ironed out. But I think we're looking at one childcare offer—a 30-hour childcare offer—that actually has two distinct elements, and I think that there could be cause for confusion. We did not bring it clearly into here; we made reference to it, because it is relevant, but, yes, there will be one offer that will have 22 different ways of being administered at present and then there will be a central offer, and yet it's all under one name.
You referred to a central offer. Is the implication of that that the 20 hours—that there's a national standard that's rolled out across Wales and doesn't have the variation that we now see through the 10-hour offer, through different local authorities? Clearly, at the moment, there are six pilots with a degree of different offers, but you're saying that you're expecting that to come down to one national offer.
That has been our expectation through the meetings we've had as stakeholders—that the pilot is actually looking at the different ways of administration, but that there will be one central steer once there is full roll-out. That's certainly the understanding that I've carried from that.
Yes, with the more prescriptive guidance built around it.
And in your joint written evidence, I think you suggested there'd be a need for HMRC to signpost the existence of that 10-hours universal offer as well; (a) is that necessary and (b) is it realistic to expect HMRC to be able to do that?
Rwy'n credu ei fod e'n hollbwysig eu bod nhw yn 'signpost-io' rhieni tuag at y cynnig cyffredinol yna ar gyfer y cyfnod meithrin yn y cyfnod sylfaen achos, gan fod hwnnw i bawb, gallai eu bod nhw yn cael nodyn o HMRC yn dweud nad ydyn nhw'n gymwys ar gyfer y 30 awr i gyd, ond mae angen i rywbeth yn yr adborth yna i fynd yn ôl â nhw i'r ffaith bod dal yr hawl ganddyn nhw i gael y cynnig o dan y cyfnod sylfaen a'r elfen addysg gynnar yna, a'u bod nhw ddim yn meddwl eu bod nhw ddim yn gymwys i ddim byd oherwydd eu bod nhw ddim yn gymwys am yr elfen ychwanegol sy'n dod o dan y 30 awr hefyd. Dylai fod hwnnw'n rhywbeth a all gael ei fwydo i mewn yn weddol hawdd i systemau gweinyddol—yr ateb yn ôl gan HMRC; eu bod nhw'n arwyddbostio nhw yn ôl i adrannau awdurdodau lleol sydd yn gweinyddu'r elfen cyfnod sylfaen.
I think it's vital that they do signpost parents towards the general offer, or universal offer for the nursery period in the foundation phase because, given that's for everybody, they might have a note from HMRC saying that they're not eligible for the entire 30 hours, but there needs to be something in that feedback that will point them back to the fact that they have the right to have the offer in the foundation phase and the educational element, and that they don't think that they're not eligible for anything because they're not eligible for that additional element that comes under the 30 hours as well. That should be something that should be fed into the administrative systems—the reply from HMRC, which signposts them back to local authority departments that do administer the foundation phase element.
Okay. And if people are getting the 20 hours and are eligible for that, in that case, can it be presumed that they're aware of, and also getting, the 10-hour offer, rather than there being a separate need to signpost if their application has been successful for the 20-hour additional eligibility?
Well, we know that every parent is offered a minimum of 10 hours for the child. Not every parent chooses to take that up for a variety of reasons, some of which can be attached to where they access the rest of their childcare, because it doesn't always suit working patterns—the place where you're offered the foundation phase. So, that causes complexities. We can assume that parents are given that offer. I think that there is a degree of confusion sometimes with parents as to what that offer actually is. If they access that foundation phase in a school nursery—in a school setting—they may not see it as any different than their child starting school at three, whereas if it's in a non-maintained setting, which we support, it will be very distinct. So, there are areas of confusion about what's on offer, and I do think that the 30-hour childcare offer needs to be very clear about exactly what the child will have as their provision, because we mustn't forget that the child is at the centre of this—this is about children; it may be helping to tackle poverty, but parents need to be clear about how they access, and what they can access.
Good. I think, in your evidence, there was a suggestion of a need to provide support for individuals who are unable to use or access the online system for whatever reason. Is that something we should perhaps be looking to specify on the face of the Bill?
Yes. Does somebody else want to comment on that?
I think it's important. There are many areas, as we know, of Wales that can't get online and parents who aren't digitally enabled. So, I think it's important that there's a definite system for those parents to be able to access it via a phone line or another means.
Currently—and again, this is not on the face of the Bill, and I know the Government wants to have the flexibility to be able to change the eligibility—the eligibility for the additional 20 hours: is that the same as the HMRC eligibility for UK-wide tax-free childcare—the £100,000 cut-off and the minimum hours of income? Is the HMRC basically giving the same answer, or are there any differences between those criteria?
No, because it's based on the number of hours worked and the average pay. So, there are certain criteria around the pay level of parents and the number of hours worked.
Are those criteria the same as the UK tax-free childcare, or different?
No, I don't think so.
I'm not sure that there's a limit yet for the childcare offer. You referred to the £100,000. I'm personally not sure whether there's a limit.
I'm not aware of a limit. I'm aware of—
And there are the considerations that are being made around—. Part of the flexibility of the pilots is around parents who are self-employed, or falling in and out of eligibility. So, they're things that have been covered by the Welsh Government and, as the pilots have gone on, that they've provided guidance on. Again, I'm not sure how that sits against the tax-free childcare eligibility.
And would you advise that those criteria, in terms of setting up the system and avoiding problems getting it going—would you want to see those criteria being the same as the UK tax-free childcare, or are you comfortable with it perhaps being somewhat different initially?
I think it needs to be developed to fit the needs of those who are living and working in Wales. We would have a lot more control if they were done individually and distinct, away from—. I can understand the need to have consistency but, at the same time, the flexibility of an approach that meets the needs of people in Wales—.
And initially, I think—going back to a previous question—if, at the start, those eligibility criteria are different, particularly if they're subtly different or in quite small ways, are you confident that HMRC will get the administration of that right, from the kick-off?
It's around consistent guidance and communication from the Welsh Government to ensure that that happens, and a route to obviously raise the concerns. There are always going to be teething problems with any new system, as we know, but it's about that ongoing communication and review, I think.
Okay. And finally from me, are you, as witnesses, confident that HMRC are set up and capable of delivering a fully bilingual system for this new requirement?
I think that that would need to be ensured—that the Welsh Government put that in an agreement that HMRC can meet the Welsh Government's Welsh language standards.
Rwy'n credu mai beth sy'n bwysig ydy sicrhau bod pa gytundeb bynnag sy'n cael ei ddatblygu gyda HMRC yn dangos yn glir bod yn rhaid i'r holl ddogfennaeth, yr holl ohebiaeth, y cysylltiadau, a'r tudalennau gwe, sy'n cael eu rhannu â rhieni a darparwyr, fod ar gael yn ddwyieithog i bawb ar bob adeg, a'u bod yn gallu newid rhyngddyn nhw yn ôl yr angen. Rwy'n credu bod angen sicrhau bod popeth yn cael ei ddatblygu ar y cyd yn ddwyieithog hefyd ganddyn nhw, a bod y wybodaeth a’r iaith yn glir arno fe, ac elfen o—os ydyn nhw’n gwneud gwaith gwirio ar-lein drwy systemau, nid oes ots beth ydy’r system y tu cefn sydd yn gwirio, dim ond bod y manylion sydd yn cael eu rhoi i rieni a darparwyr ar gael yn ddwyieithog. A hefyd, bod unrhyw ganllawiau’n ddwyieithog a bod y system gymorth dros y ffôn, neu beth bynnag sy’n cael ei ddatblygu—bod yna elfen o ddwyieithrwydd yn cael ei datblygu ar gyfer hynny, fel bod rhieni a darparwyr yn gallu cael mynediad ato fe yn Gymraeg neu yn Saesneg.
I think what's important is ensuring that whatever agreement is developed with HMRC shows clearly that all the documentation, the correspondence, the links, and the websites that are shared with parents and providers are available bilingually to all people at all times, and that they can switch between them according to their need. I think there's also a need to ensure that everything is prepared jointly in both languages so that the information is there in clear language, and also an element that if they're doing the checking work online through the system, it doesn't matter what the back-end system doing the checking is, only that the details given to parents and providers are available bilingually. And also, that any guidance is bilingual and that the support system over the phone, or whatever is developed, has a bilingual element developed for that so that parents and providers can access it in Welsh or in English.
Just before we move on, then, to talk about the actual childcare offer, you mentioned earlier that one of the main challenges in England has been the arrangement for local authorities to pay providers being left to regulations. Yet, you seem to be saying that you're quite content, in this Bill, for the arrangements to be left to regulations. Do you feel assured, then, with the balance as it is at the moment of what's on the face of the Bill and not having very much information at all about what's in the regulations, that the same problems won't occur here?
I think that, given that we're an England-Wales organisation, I know that the relationship that we have and the opportunities to consult and to be involved in the development of criteria and eligibility and things like that—it's much more of a stronger relationship than it is in England. In England, quite often, it's developed and it might go to consultation, but they haven't had the key stakeholders involved in all areas of development as it's gone along. And I think the fact that we have and that we were all involved in implementation groups around the childcare offer and stakeholder engagements, to me, that has a certain element then of supporting the development of what goes into the regulations to ensure that they're fit for purpose. I don't know whether everyone else would agree.
Bore da. The guidance for the early implementer local authorities has said that organisations can charge, I think, £37.50 a week to parents for snacks and food, for those who are going to the five full-day sessions. So, have you got any feedback from the pilots as to the average additional fees that are being charged and how that element is working?
We've gathered some feedback from our staff working with early implementer providers. From what we understand, piloting clubs are tending not to charge any additional—. Obviously, we're dealing with out-of-school childcare clubs, not full-day care. But the one full-day care that we have had evidence from that charges, they've restricted the amount that they are charging. So, our anecdotal evidence is that the £37.50 is sufficient.
So, the reference you made to the one full day, how much are they charging there?
I don't actually have the figure that they're charging, but they've had a positive response from parents with regard to the charges that they're making.
I think that, as the childcare offer is rolled out in areas that maybe have more expensive childcare—so, for example, Cardiff—I think this is something that we need to look at and learn from. I haven't got any evidence, as National Day Nurseries Association, at the moment, about the early implementers, those that are currently having the offer, charging higher fees, but I think this is something that we need to look at as the offer rolls out.
They may be charging, and we understand from the day nurseries that have been implementing the childcare offer that the £37.50 to cover food and snacks is enough. But as I say, as it's rolled out in, maybe, more expensive areas, I think this is something that we need to look at and learn from.
We've had some evidence in one of the early implementer areas where some day nurseries are charging where parents weren't being charged previously, because the £4.50 per hour doesn't quite make up the running costs that they had previously. And they have commented on the fact that they're not used to paying for those snacks. So, there is a little bit of evidence but I don't have any evidence of how much, on average, people are charging.
Do you think £37.50 is a fair amount to charge for a little one for food and snacks for a week?
I think if you think about it being a 30-hour offer and how many meals they are going to be there for—. There needs to be further work that's done as part of the evaluation of the early implementer areas, and I'm sure that will come out in it around what fees were taken, whether providers took those fees and whether they were enough from a provider point of view, or too much from a parental point of view.
I think what you have to remember is that each of the settings across Wales are individually managed and individually run, so it's up to them, really. It's almost—when it's there as an allowance, they can do; it's a business decision for them. So, some may not be charging because it makes them more attractive to parents if they're not charging it, but we need to ensure that childcare doesn't become too expensive for what should be a funded childcare programme, I agree.
Right, so there's not any more evidence on that, really. Thank you very much. And have you seen any evidence that this Bill will increase employment rates for mothers, seeing that it's aimed at three and four-year-olds? Because there is some evidence that that isn't the key area to enable mothers to go back to work.
I don't have any actual evidence at the moment, and I don't know whether the local authorities—they presumably are collecting that evidence as part of the pilots, but we haven't accessed any evidence. It seems to make sense that it would increase maternal employment, but we don't have any figures.
The Welsh Government's national childcare survey for Wales for 2018 says:
'requirement for childcare is highest between the ages of 1-3'
'for children aged 0-2, parents found it more difficult to afford childcare...than those with children aged 3-4'.
The Public Policy Institute for Wales report found that the proposed policy would have
'no substantial impacts on net income, poverty or work behaviour for families with children'.
So, what comments have you got about those views?
Rwy'n credu bod y cynnig yn gam cychwynnol ar y daith yna o gynyddu cyfradd cyflogadwyedd y rhieni sydd â phlant, ac rwy'n credu bod angen dechrau rhywle. Mae hwn yn gam cyntaf ar y daith yna ymlaen, ond, yn amlwg, yn y tymor hir, er mwyn gwir edrych ar sut ydym ni'n sicrhau cadw rhieni yn y gweithle os oedd ganddyn nhw swyddi cyn cael plant—o ystyried y dystiolaeth sy'n dod trwy'r arolygon i gyd—fod angen edrych yn y tymor hir i'w ymestyn e allan i blant ifancach ac efallai adeiladu ar y cynnig Dechrau'n Deg, sydd eto yn rhywbeth sydd angen bod yn gymwys ar ei gyfer e ac sydd ddim yn genedlaethol. Mae angen edrych ar sut ydym ni'n ymestyn yr elfen yma o ofal plant sydd yn cael ei gyllido er mwyn annog rhieni i aros mewn gwaith neu sicrhau cyfleon iddyn nhw allu cymryd gwaith a bod hynny ddim yn eu rhoi nhw o dan anfantais ariannol yn y tymor hir.
I believe that the offer is an initial step on that journey of increasing the rate of the employment of parents, and I think we need to start somewhere. This is the first step on that journey onwards, but, obviously, in the long term, in order to truly look at how we ensure we keep parents in the workplace if they had employment before having children—given the evidence that is emerging through all the surveys—we need to look in the long term to expand it to younger children and, perhaps, to build on the Flying Start offer, which is also something you need to be eligible for; it's not a national programme. We need to look at how we can extend this offer of funded childcare in order to encourage parents to stay in work or to ensure that they have opportunities to be able to take up employment without being financially disadvantaged in the long term.
We know that the cost of childcare is a major barrier to returning to work and that the UK has the highest fees in Europe, so funded childcare, even for three and four-year-olds, must impact on maternal employment rates.
I think the other thing to consider is almost the flip side of the childcare offer being funded and there being funded childcare available to parents, which is that we've had a decline in the number of registered childminders over the last few years in Wales. Potentially, if there's a sustainable childcare gap that can be identified, with more childcare being looked for by parents, it could go some way to actually getting, for the majority, mothers back into work and becoming registered childminders on a self-employed basis. So, potentially, it's an indirect factor that comes out of the childcare offer.
Right, thank you. You talked about the two parts of the offer, the foundation phase and the rest. There has been some evidence that
'some providers see the Offer as more lucrative than Foundation Phase funding and are considering only offering places under the offer in future'.
I think that was Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs. So, could you expand on that, please?
Yes. Obviously, as an organisation, we don't deal with foundation phase. We deal with out-of-school childcare, so it's school age, so, three-year-olds and up. But evidence that we're hearing is that all of the differences in rates of foundation phase across the country—and I think it's well documented that providers see that the foundation phase funding is not sufficient to cover costs, and it's making providers unsustainable. So, we've heard that a couple of providers are apparently going to stop providing foundation phase, because the childcare offer is better funded. So maybe it needs to be looked at—that the foundation phase funding is reviewed.
So, that could cause problems to parents, because obviously they've probably chosen this way of receiving the foundation phase because of the nearness and things that are convenient for them.
I think, just to expand on that, we've got evidence from a provider who's in an area where they're not providing the pilot at all at the moment, who's actually decided recently not to tender to provide foundation phase. So, in the local authorities, if a provider wants to provide the funded foundation phase nursery, they have to go through a tendering process with the local authority. They've done the sums, looked at it and decided not to tender for the latest round of foundation phase and to cross their fingers and hope that they can provide the childcare offer. That means we then lose a potential provider in this area, because there's nobody else providing it there from the sector. It is a concern. Our advice to people has been, 'Please don't do anything drastic. Please consider this very carefully and how it's going to work for you as a whole'.
I think we've lobbied as well in the past for opportunities for more non-maintained providers to be able to deliver foundation phase. There are inconsistencies across Wales for settings that are able to access that. For example, in Wales, for child minders—there's one child minder at the moment that is able to offer the funded element of the childcare offer around the foundation phase. Again, when you think about parental choice and the best outcomes for the children, having to move between settings, where potentially there is already a quality setting that they could be accessing the full offer in, doesn't seem sensible.
Could I also mention at this stage—? Sorry. We're taking about foundation phase settings. The funding system is completely different. There are 22 different funding systems for foundation phase, and so to some providers the childcare offer looks very attractive at £4.50 an hour, because they're getting a lot less per hour for delivering foundation phase nursery, and that is a relevant issue, I think, to this.
We do have evidence from our annual nursery surveys that our sector is having a low funded rate for the delivery of foundation phase. We have lobbied and raised concerns about this, because it's causing sustainability issues in the day nursery sector, and we would like to see more non-maintained settings being able to offer the foundation phase provision, because we believe in continuity of care and parental choice.
Also, in our recent survey, we asked a question about whether the providers felt that the foundation phase rate—as it is part of the offer, the foundation phase—should be the same rate as the childcare offer, and 100 per cent of our responses have said it should be the same rate.
It varies, as my colleagues have said. It varies dependent on the local authority, but some of them are £2.20 an hour—something like that. That's one I can think of. But it just varies dependent on the local authority. We're looking at more evidence to provide the Welsh Government with regard to our survey and our stats with regard to how much, across local authorities, settings are being paid for the foundation phase.
Rwy'n credu bod hwn yn ategu'r wybodaeth rydym ni wedi'i chael gan ddarparwyr. Achos mae yna gymaint o gyfraddau gwahanol rhwng y cyfradd sy'n cael ei dalu gan Dechrau'n Deg yn yr awdurdodau lleol a'r gyfradd sy'n cael ei dalu ar gyfer yr elfen meithrin cyfnod sylfaen ac wedyn yr elfen gofal o'r cynnig 30 awr. Mae'r cyfraddau yna yn gallu bod yn wahanol—y tair elfen o fewn un sir. Mae diffyg cysondeb wedyn os yw'r darparwr yn cynnig y tair cynllun gwahanol yna i deuluoedd. Nid oes cysondeb yn y cyllid maen nhw'n ei gael am yr amser mae'r plentyn yna yn y lleoliad gyda nhw, ac mae'n ei wneud e'n anodd iddyn nhw gynllunio yn ariannol achos nad ydynt yn hollol sicr faint o arian maen nhw'n ei gael i mewn ar gyfer yr un plentyn yna. Yr un gofal a'r un gwasanaeth maen nhw'n eu darparu, ond maen nhw'n cael cyfradd wahanol ar gyfer darparu'r un faint o amser o ofal ac addysg i'r plentyn yna o fewn y lleoliad.
I think that echoes the information that we've had from providers, because there are so many different rates in terms of the Flying Start rates that are paid in local authorities and the foundation phase nursery element and then the childcare offer for 30 hours. Those rates can be very different for those three elements within one county. There's a lack of consistency there if a provider does offer those three different schemes to families. There is no consistency in the funding that they receive for the time that the child is in that setting with them, and it makes it very difficult for them to plan financially because they're not certain how much money they will get in for that one child. They provide the same care and service, but they get a different rate for providing the same amount of care and education to that child within that setting.
I've always found it very difficult to get it accepted to have the foundation phase in a non-maintained setting, and I don't know whether that's related to the fact there are places available in the maintained setting. But what is the experience generally? Because I have had parents coming to me asking me to try to enable that to happen for their daily convenience, really. Have you any idea what happens around Wales?
There is variation—there are 22 variations. Within Cardiff, I've spoken to parents whose children have attended Flying Start settings, but they're not going to attend their foundation phase because they've been offered a place somewhere where they can't get to, because they've got a child to get to school locally and they then can't get over by bus to where they need to go. That is such a shame, but sometimes the local authority will prescribe where that place is. So, if you've got—. I know of somebody else, again in Cardiff, who has a child all day in a day nursery. She's not accessing the foundation phase place because she's a working parent. She needs to go to one place to drop off her child where it's convenient. Where the foundation phase place is—they can't get that child to the day nursery for the rest of the day. So, these scenarios pop up all over Wales—we deal with them on a daily basis—but we know that the childcare offer needs to be very flexible in order to meet all of these different needs for the child and for their family.
Yes. If, in a non-maintained setting, the foundation phase is paid for, that means that that setting has to offer all the things that are available in the schools, which is quite an ask, really, isn't it?
But it's what they're doing anyway. If you look at what's required even under the NMS—to meet the national minimum standards, there's reference to the foundation phase. Good-quality childcare will be embedding all the principles, ethos and philosophy of the foundation phase for three-year-olds. I have no doubt in my mind about the quality settings here, and I don't think any of us would be saying that every setting in Wales could offer non-maintained provision, but the quality end of that should be given the opportunity, where they've demonstrated that quality.
We're all about developing children and finding those opportunities for developing learning while they're playing. That doesn't stop at the end of two hours foundation phase nursery when you're in the childcare part of the day. That doesn't stop; it's a continuum for our practitioners—that's how they're trained. So, the child is constantly developing; the child doesn't have set hours to develop.
Yes. So, we hope the financial element doesn't get in the way, then, of developing more foundation phase in the non-maintained setting.
And it's the importance of parental choice, and having more of the non-maintained sector to be able to deliver the foundation phase.
Notwithstanding the involvement of your organisation in these working groups and engagement with Welsh Government, I've had a very different impression from the evidence we've had just now than I have had from speaking with Ministers. They appear to have this assumption that you've got these 10 hours of nursery foundation phase, which are heavily focused on child development, very high quality as far as they see, largely in maintained settings. And then there's going to be this 48-week, 20-hour additional additional childcare offer, where it doesn't seem to have the same focus, in the way that they're talking about the programme, on these outcomes and what you should be doing in the foundation phase, and the high-quality child development elements of it, whereas, to listen to you, there shouldn't be that distinction.
Maybe that's something we need to raise in the stakeholder group with the Welsh Government, in that we would not see it as being—. In a setting that's delivering both, it wouldn't be so distinct. High-quality childcare is high-quality childcare that's embedding education within it as the norm. I think that's what's important to come out.
A child is constantly—. Well, adults are constantly developing, but children are developing very fast in their early years. Obviously, if you're delivering the foundation phase nursery, there are requirements for observations and planning, but those observations and planning take place anyway. They're just more focused for what the local authority might require in terms of monitoring individual children. But, in any setting, those individual children are still developed individually. Records are kept about their development, so that when they transition on to school, or to maintained nurseries, those records can be contained and go with them.
Yet, in Wales, we're going to have two separate inspection systems. We'll have Estyn and Care Inspectorate Wales, whereas in England, Ofsted have covered the lot. What's your view on that then in terms of ensuring a consistent quality provision?
I think that CIW have gone some of the way with the joint inspection framework with Estyn that's there for those that are delivering both childcare and foundation phase nursery provision. So, there are methods now that are trying to make that less burdensome and more consistent. I don't know if you've got anything else to add.
The feedback so far is quite positive about that. I think it's still in its infancy. So, obviously, CIW go in and inspect more often than Estyn do, but when the opportunity is there for them both to go in, there's one framework that they're working to.
I just wanted to probe a little bit more about this 10 hours versus the 20 hours issue. So, as I understand it now, you could be faced with a situation where some parents would be dropping their kids off for the first 10 hours in one place, and then having to pick their kids up during the day in order to take them to another place for the remainder of the childcare that they're entitled to.
In theory, you could, but what would mainly happen is, say, for example, if you had a child minder that was providing—. So, you had the sessional care that was happening in a maintained setting and they were getting the 10 hours, but the child minder would do the before, maybe 8 a.m. till 9 a.m., and then the after the setting, so it's the wraparound that's going around that funded maintained place.
I get that with, perhaps, a child minder, but what about other care settings?
We do have nurseries where they do pick up children after they've had the foundation phase provision in the school, and take them back to the nursery. What we would like is, obviously, to be able to see that that nursery was able to offer the education provision, so there wasn't that transition of children. However, that isn't currently the case. So—
So, we face children being bussed around or carted around from one place to the next just in order to fit the offer. Most people would be assuming that when commitments are made to 30 hours of free childcare it's all in one place.
But then, if a child is in a maintained setting, i.e. in the school, what happens at present is, for example, many of our members provide that wraparound either in the school setting or in the community. But, yes, it sounds like one thing—and the need to be flexible is very necessary because of rural areas, because of parents, where they work. But yes, that is how—
But you've made it clear that we've got problems with these foundation phase 10 hours, in any case, because they're not always very convenient. The processes that the local authorities have for determining where it's going to be provided can be very burdensome for parents. So, how do you deal with a situation where a local authority says, 'Your childcare has to be provided by that place in terms of the foundation 10 hours', and yet your local nursery is the one that you want to drop your child off in for the other 20 hours? It's not very convenient, is it?
Again, it's what the parent chooses. And if the parent decides they don't take up one element of the offer, that is their choice, but it could cost them more, couldn't it?
And it is an issue that we've been lobbying on—I know that we have as PACEY, and I'm sure other partners too—for a number of years around this. But it's using the Bill maybe as an opportunity, a vehicle almost, to make some changes.
And can I just check again—? So, you're saying that the rates for the foundation phase are much lower than the £4.50 rate. Yet, there's much more in terms of the requirement for providers to deliver in terms of the foundation phase. But you're getting—almost half is what you've suggested—less than half, Sandra, when you were giving us information about this £2.20 rate. Where is that, by the way?
I think we should name and shame all of these local authorities. It would be good, Chair, if we could have a list of the price attached to this by each local authority.
We do keep a list updated. I think we could probably let you have that.
We do share these views with Welsh Government when we have meetings. They are aware of it, and I believe they are looking at addressing this. They are aware of this, so it's not news—it's well known, but it's working through it.
It may be well known, but, having transitioned and experienced the childcare system in England and then in Wales, I've been really quite shocked by the way the Welsh system has so many private providers organise their offer around shipping kids to and from nursery for two and a half hours, and the impact on the child of parts of that day being spent on the transport, but also in terms of ratio and cost for the provider of having to be escorting kids from one nursery, or often several different nursery providers, to one childcare—. It strikes me as a significant expense, and almost certainly not in the child's best interests. I just wonder if this new, expanded system should be a reason to look again at the first principles of why on earth we have this system that involves so much shipping kids around and this presumption that what goes on in this nursery maintained setting is of such a higher standard than what the private providers can deliver in either element of the programme.
I think what we need to be careful of there is to recognise that the non-maintained sector is made up of many elements, some of which are private childcare providers, and many of them—a good percentage, certainly of our membership, and, I believe, Clybiau's membership and some others; yours as well—are voluntary managed. They're voluntary managed by groups of parents, usually, who need community childcare. So, that might be held in a community setting; it might be held on school premises. If we start to examine this, what we don't want to risk is the loss of those community settings, because they're a very important part of communities and the development of communities. But, certainly, what we aim to do—and, as Cwlwm, we all work together, because we're all working on different elements of childcare—is to see how we can work together to make that flexible, to make it work for the child and the parent as well.
Is there not a risk that the schools will want to extend their offer because there are £4.50 cash terms attached to it per hour, and that that will squeeze, even further, operators out of the marketplace and limit choice even further?
Yes, it varies. We've worked with some schools up in north Wales in an early implementer authority in Flintshire to open wraparound within schools. So, playgroups, maybe voluntary managed or sole traders, go in and run it from the school, but there is a risk for community childcare.
We are concerned, obviously, about the sustainability of day nurseries. We do want that continuity of care. We want to ensure that more day nurseries can offer the foundation phase, that parents do have a choice and that they are delivering high-quality—. We know they're delivering high-quality provision. What we're saying is that any new childcare that is developed through the offer should not displace existing provision, because we do not want to see that. We—
But you accept that there's a risk that some schools may decide, 'Well, we're going to offer this for 30 hours a week in any case, and we don't really care what happens outside because it's our school budgets that matter.'
If that was the case, we would want to see that that school was working closely with their local day nursery to be able to provide that within their setting. We do not want to see closure of settings; we want to see them working together. And, as I said, we do not want to displace existing provision.
What you have to remember is that the 20 hours, or the childcare element of the offer—which is different from the foundation phase element—has to be delivered in registered childcare settings. So, for a school to be able to do that, it would have to then register and go through that process, which again is—
Yes, but there's an incentive for them to be able to do that, isn't there? That's the point I'm making: they've got this incentive—this financial incentive.
Diolch. Rydw i jest eisiau holi ynglŷn â darpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg, oherwydd mae gan y Llywodraeth uchelgais, sy'n cael ei rhannu ar draws y Senedd, i gyrraedd miliwn o siaradwyr Cymraeg erbyn 2050. Nid wyf i'n mynd i ofyn i Mudiad Meithrin, achos y peryg yw bod pawb yn edrych i gyfeiriad Mudiad Meithrin pan mae'n dod i ddarpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg. Buaswn i jest yn licio clywed oddi wrth y gweddill ohonoch chi a ydy'r capasiti yna ar hyn o bryd—ac rwy'n tybio efallai nad yw e, i'r graddau y byddai pawb yn hoffi ei weld—ac felly, pa gynlluniau sydd gennych chi i dyfu'r capasiti yna fel bod y cynnig gofal yn gallu bod yn gynnig gofal sydd ar gael yn y Gymraeg neu'r Saesneg ym mhob rhan o Gymru.
Thank you. I just want to ask about Welsh-medium provision, because the Government has an ambition, which is shared throughout the Senedd, to reach a million Welsh speakers by 2050. I'm not going to ask Mudiad Meithrin, because the danger is that everyone looks to Mudiad Meithrin when it comes to Welsh-medium provision. I would just like to hear from the rest of you: is the capacity there currently—and I suspect that perhaps it isn't there to the extent that everyone would like to see—and so, what plans you have to grow that capacity so that the childcare offer can be one that is available in Welsh or in English in all parts of Wales.
Well, there's a huge appetite there amongst the English-medium settings to learn Welsh. We're very fortunate in that Welsh Government has recently increased the amount of funding that NDNA and Wales PPA previously had to fund Welsh language officers to go and encourage people and support people who'd been on Welsh courses. We're very pleased that all Cwlwm partners are now involved in that and that there will be progression courses. The appetite is huge out there. Once people start learning Welsh—they've perhaps learnt a little bit in school—they want to keep doing it. So, we feel very optimistic about supporting the Government's aims in that way. We know that there is a need for more Welsh language provision and I think we're responsive to that, and we would always work alongside Mudiad Meithrin in that respect. But, yes, we're all working very hard at the moment to actually encourage people to do the work, with the National Centre for Learning Welsh, to do the diagnostic tool and to progress that learning. But, we've got the ability to support them as well.
Okay. Just one final question from me before we close. What have the challenges been for you in scrutinising the provisions of this Bill when the sector does ultimately stand to benefit from the policy and the Bill?
Rwy'n credu mai un o'r heriau oedd gyda ni fel mudiad oedd, fel sefydliad ymbarél sy'n cynrychioli'r sector, craffu ar y Bil ac edrych ar sut mae hynny'n effeithio ar y darparwyr, ond hefyd ystyried yr ochr ar gyfer y rhieni a'r teuluoedd a'r plant hefyd, a thrio rhoi ymateb sydd yn gytbwys ar gyfer y ddwy elfen, sydd yn gallu bod ag anghenion gwahanol o ran sut mae'n rhedeg a beth yw'r gofynion. Ond, yn y pen draw, sicrhau ei fod yn rhedeg mewn ffordd sydd yn ateb gofynion rhieni a chyflogwyr, bod y darparwyr eu hunain yn gallu ymateb a chael yr amser i gynllunio i ddarparu'r gwasanaethau yn y cymunedau lleol i'r teuluoedd, ond hefyd edrych ar yr ochr o sicrhau ei fod ar gael mor hwylus ag sydd yn bosibl i rieni, a bod y wybodaeth ar gael yn hawdd i rieni allu cael mynediad ato yn syth pan maen nhw'n dod yn gymwys ar ei gyfer e.
I think one of the challenges that we had as an organisation, as an umbrella body that represents the sector, was scrutinising the Bill and looking at how it affects the providers, but also considering the parents' side and the families and the children, and trying to give a response that's balanced for the two elements, which can have different needs in terms of how it runs and what the requirements are. But, ultimately, ensuring that it runs in a way that does meet the needs of parents and employers, that the providers themselves can respond and have time to plan to provide the service in local communities for families, but also looking at the side of ensuring that it's as convenient as possible for parents, and that information is available to parents so that they can have access to it immediately when they become eligible for it.
I would agree with that.
Okay. Well, we've come to the end of our time. Can I thank you very much for attending and for answering our questions? You will be sent a transcript following the meeting to check for accuracy. Thank you very much again. The committee will now break until 10:45.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:32 a 10:45.
The meeting adjourned between 10:32 and 10:45.
Can I welcome everybody back for our next evidence session? I'm very pleased to welcome Cerys Furlong, who is chief executive of Chwarae Teg. Thank you very much for attending, and also for the paper that you provided in advance. If you're happy, we'll go straight into questions. The first questions are from Hefin David.
You say that, of the four options, the HMRC eligibility check option is the most effective, or seems to be the most effective, but also you identify the challenges that they encountered with the English childcare offer. So, I think we need a little bit of an exploration of the extent to which we can be confident in HMRC to do this, given those difficulties.
Clearly, that's a question for HMRC and I'm not going to speak for them, but the line that we have seen from the UK Government is that significant improvement has been made since the initial difficulties around implementing the system. Obviously, that needs to be closely monitored, both from the English perspective and any roll-out in Wales. We think that, on balance, even with that potential risk, enabling HMRC to administer the checks is the best option, and that's because it has the least burden on parents.
Yes. So, we've had a sort of test bed in England so we could see the pros and cons of that. I think enabling the collection and analysis of data by HMRC means that there's less burden in terms of presenting that data from parents—so, a sort of proactive stance from the Government. So, no system is going to be perfect but we think that this is probably the best option.
And a local authority administered approach perhaps would lead to differentials around Wales as to how things are done.
Okay. You gave evidence to the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee in April and you said that it was really challenging that the Bill was introduced before the evaluation of the pilots had been published. Can you tell us more about your views there?
In an ideal world, we would have all of the evidence around how the pilots are working before moving forward with any legislation. Now, I accept that this Bill is a sort of technical Bill to enable the collection and consideration of data that will determine a parent's eligibility, and that's fine, but the detail in the explanatory memorandum is very specific around what that eligibility criteria is. Our concerns are that the evaluation of the pilots and what we hear from parents may well show that there are different ways that that eligibility criteria could be carved up. So, perhaps the funding needs to be directed at parents of younger children, for example, or the income threshold for a household might need to be different. Now, those are not on the face of the Bill, and it's quite right that they shouldn't be. So, we're not concerned about the Bill itself, but I think we need to be really clear that the pilots are supposed to inform the roll-out and not be too prescriptive at this stage about what the eligibility is and just stick to the mechanism that the Bill allows for. So, as long as the regulations are flexible enough that they can take account of any changes that need to be made to the offer, then we're satisfied with that.
So, is it fair to say that the very technical nature of the Bill and the flexibility associated with the explanatory memorandum therefore reduces those concerns?
It reduces those concerns provided that there's sufficient scrutiny of the evaluation of the pilots, and in an ideal world that scrutiny would have happened at this stage, when you're considering the Bill, and not afterwards, but we appreciate that—
Well, yes, it is.
Good morning. The explanatory memorandum says that the primary purpose of the Bill is to support the Welsh economy by helping parents, particularly mothers, to return to work. Now, again, I'm going to quote what you said in the equality committee: that you weren't sure that the offer as it stands is targeted at those for whom access to affordable, flexible childcare is the primary barrier to them getting back into work. You reiterated that earlier. So, what needs to change on the face of the Bill or in proposed regulation or whatever to address that?
We're not suggesting a change to the face of the Bill, because I think that would potentially tie the hands of future administrations as well as this, but we would suggest changes to the eligibility criteria as they are currently. Our concern, and what we hear from parents, is that the offer for parents of three and four-year-olds is too late. So, I'll give you an example this week from my own sister, who is due to go back to work. She's a hairdresser. She's got a nine-month-old. She can't afford to go back to work, and at this point she's having to make considerations about her future career based on what childcare and support she can access. By the time her child is three, she's already two years down the track and has made those decisions and is on a different path. So, our concern would be that, at that point, many mothers particularly choose to enter into lower paid more flexible low-skilled jobs because they need to work around their family, and then, by the time the intervention comes and their child is three or four, they're already on that sort of path and that career course.
So, we totally support the intention to provide financial incentives to women particularly returning to work, and easing the financial pressure on families is really important, but our view is that it needs to be targeted both at the right time to enable women particularly to continue with their careers and to develop, and it needs to be targeted at those for whom childcare is the primary barrier back to work, and for those, frankly, who need it most. So, the scenario as it would be at the moment is that my sister, who is a hairdresser, can't access support when she needs it to go back to work, yet I've got a three-year-old and I would be able to, but, frankly, I could probably afford to pay for it anyway. That doesn't seem to me to be the best use of public funds.
You mentioned earlier in your answer that you didn't want to tie the hands of future administrations, but, of course, the words 'working parents' are in the Bill; they're on the face of the Bill. So, would you support the children's commissioner's suggestion that those words should be removed to offer that flexibility for future administrations to extend the proposed offer?
Well, we think that, when you take into consideration the broad offer that Welsh Government's got in place, including, for example, Flying Start, this targeted intervention for working parents is the right one, because we are consistently told that it is childcare that is the barrier to continuing in work for parents. So, I think it's right to make decisions when you have limited resources, and this seems to us to be an eminently sensible one to make.
So you don't necessarily support the children's commissioner's suggestion that it will broaden the school readiness gap in terms of children from workless families not accessing this and children from working families being able to access it.
I think that's where there is potential to introduce greater flexibility in the eligibility criteria. So, for example, those who are in education or training, where that is directly intended to enable them to get back into work—I think they should be able to access the childcare offer. But I think extending it to all parents, whether they're working or not, runs the risk of spreading the offer too thin.
So, it should be extended to at least those in education or training, for example.
Yes, we would support that.
Okay. The offer and the assertion that it would actually help parents or mothers to return to work—the evidence base around that isn't as robust as I would like, certainly from what I've seen. We have seen examples from the Public Policy Institute for Wales and others where they actually question—you know, it's a negligible impact it will probably have. Now, this is a huge investment of £100 million. Are there not other ways that the Government could use this money to better effect for that particular cohort?
From what we can see, the research paints a bit of a mixed picture, and the PPIW report that you mentioned looked into the proposed offer purely from an economic perspective, as we see it, and—
But it didn't take into account the other factors that lead to parents deciding whether to return to work or not. So, while the financial considerations are important, there are other factors at play. And the reality is that most women that we speak to talk about a lack of affordable and flexible childcare as the key issue that they want to see addressed. So, the evaluation of the pilots here is key, and that's why we're flagging it up—using the opportunity of the Bill to flag up our concerns about that. Because by the time that we have those evaluations, this will have already been going through the Assembly and, potentially, the regulations are at risk of not having the same level of scrutiny as the Bill itself. So, the devil will be in the detail there. But we still think the intervention of spending public money on supporting parents to continue or to access work where childcare is the primary barrier is the right thing to do.
Okay. But you would still support a Bill that targets it in a less efficient way for three to four-year-olds.
Well, as I understand it, the Bill is about the mechanism to enable the collection of data—
So, when we get into the detail of the explanatory memorandum, we do have concerns in there, because it is quite prescriptive about, for example, household income, putting an exact figure on that. We would argue that figure needs to come down to enable targeting at those who need it most. There's no reason that the regulations can't change to allow that, but we just need to keep a close eye on it to make sure that that is the case, if the pilots and the evaluation of those show that it needs to be more targeted.
But you would rather a universal offer if that was a realistic option.
If we had a magic wand, yes.
Well, one of the suggestions that the children's commissioner has made, of course, is that you rejig the hours, that you slightly reduce the offer, so that you can broaden the offer to more people. Is that something that you'd encourage the Government to look at?
I think we have to think about how that would work in practice for parents. So, at the moment—. I'll give you an example: I get 15 hours free childcare for my child. I can't access a wraparound place for her in school in the maintained setting because there are no places available, because they're all full. I don't have the flexibility to be able to pick her up from school every day at 3 p.m. so I pay for top-up at a private nursery, and then have to make arrangements with family to pick her up. Now, I don't think that if you reduce the amount of time and money that are supported, that will allow parents to—. It will push women into more part-time, low-paid jobs to give them the flexibility to be able to flex around that. I think what we want to do is enable women to not be underutilising their skills, but to be able to progress and not have the fact that they've had a family—. If they want to continue in work—and some parents take the active choice, quite understandably, not to—but for those who want to, there shouldn't be a motherhood pay penalty, and if the Government is going to spend money on supporting them, then it needs to be sufficient both in time and flexible enough to allow them to do that.
Cerys, you mentioned training and that you would support the Bill allowing people to access childcare to undertake training. But, because of the use of 'working parents' on the face of the Bill, it is the committee's understanding that there is no flexibility to allow women who are undergoing training to access this funding. What is your view on that?
Having read the explanatory memorandum, that wasn't the view that I took, but I would, perhaps, go away and consider that further—if that is restrictive. The other thing that we'd need to have a better understanding of is how many parents is that going to be and how do we determine what education and training would be eligible. So, all of that, it seems to me, needs further thought, because you might want to prescribe—. Is it full-time education or training? Is it training that's directly targeted at leading into work, or not? And I think we're not there yet on understanding that.
But would you acknowledge that, for some women, they are so far from being able to work that, actually, things like training are a really important measure to give people confidence before they can even make that step to go back to work?
I absolutely acknowledge that, but I also acknowledge that this childcare funding Bill, and the offer, as it stands, is not a universal offer for all women, and that there are other funded interventions aimed at supporting those women who are further away as well. So, I think what we don't want to end up with is an offer that sounds great but delivers very little because it's spread too thin.
Okay. You referred in your answer to Flying Start, and the fact that Flying Start could maybe pick up some of the children who wouldn't be covered by the offer. But, the committee held a debate yesterday highlighting the fact that two thirds of children in poverty actually live outside Flying Start areas. What's your view on that?
Again, that's a consideration for Flying Start, as to whether it's targeted in the right way. Anything that's based on postcode data is always going to be difficult. I suppose one concern that we do have about Flying Start, and how the offer's going to work around childcare in maintained settings, is whether it's going to—. So, the 10 hours that you might get in Flying Start—will the 20 hours that's topped up by the childcare offer be sufficiently flexible or will it have to be provided in a maintained setting, which doesn't work for some parents? So, there's a lot of detail. We have to come at it from the perspective of understanding the real lived experiences of different parents and families. It's flexibility that's crucial there.
On that point, Cerys, as well as the top-up from the 10 and then the 20 hours, there's also going from the 38 weeks to the 48 weeks. Do you think there's the right balance between the maintained and non-maintained setting, and this distinguishment that these Ministers make between the nursery foundation phase and the, perhaps, not quite such high quality, in child development terms, childcare wrapped around that?
I wouldn't necessarily make a critical point about the quality, but, again, the frustration around the timing is because all of this needs to be considered as part of the evaluation. Without that understanding, it's difficult to make an informed answer to your points, which are perfectly reasonable and valid to raise.
Thank you very much. We've already referred to the fact that a lot of the detail of the Bill will be in the regulations, so do you think it's appropriate to leave so much of the detail to the regulations?
I understand why that has been done, for the reasons that I said before—not to tie the hands and risk being too prescriptive. I think if the regulations are able to be scrutinised effectively—my understanding is that they would require the whole Assembly's endorsement of those, and my plea would be that, at that point, individual Assembly Members are confident and aware of what it is that they're agreeing to at that point.
So, we're reasonably relaxed, but, as I said, using the opportunity to flag up concerns about the unknown, which are: Is the offer right? Is the eligibility right? Are we targeting this in the most effective way? We don't know all of the answers to those, yet, frankly.
Right, but do you think that subjecting the regulations to the affirmative process in the Assembly is sufficient?
I think that should be sufficient, as long as people know what it is that they're voting through.
Just on that specifically, one issue with the affirmative procedure, of course, is that you cannot amend the proposal—you have to take it or leave it. Much of the detail may be that we would want to amend the hours or some particular aspects, so, whilst I appreciate that the Assembly will have a voice in that process, it isn't quite the same as ensuring that some of this detail is on the face of the Bill.
I suppose the pros and cons are the same way if you put that detail on the front of the Bill, so it's a tricky one. I don't have an answer beyond that.
In your written evidence, you say that the equality impact assessment does not apply
'a critical analysis to the likely impact of the Bill.'
Could you expand on that?
Yes. The equality impact assessment, as is not uncommon, is fairly limited. Interestingly, it doesn't consider the potential positive impacts of the Bill on gender equality, for example, which is perhaps strange given that the intention of the Bill is to enable working mothers to access work, and we know that that has a number of positive outcomes. So, there's that sort of concern at the start.
We're doing a lot of work around equality impact assessments at the moment and their use, but one thing that we would be keen to stress is that taking a more intersectional approach to that analysis should enable us to consider whether women of particular ages or ethnicities or community groups would benefit more or less as a result of this offer.
I think the other element that could have been considered as part of the equality impact assessment is the impact on older women. We know that older women—grandmothers and aunts particularly—do a huge amount of unpaid childcare to enable their daughters to access work, and that's, again, not sufficiently referenced.
But this forms part of a broader point that we are trying to make through the work that the rapid review on gender equality is doing, which is: at what point are equality impact assessments useful and meaningful? Do they inform the development of the policy at the outset, or are they a check and balance at the end? Too often, they seem to be a check and balance at the end rather than informing and driving the policy to ensure that it actually enhances equality rather than being a disbenefit.
Right. Thank you. Can you expand on your written evidence that it's
'unclear whether the Welsh Childcare offer will include a "grace period" as the English model does'
and that this means that, should a parent become ineligible,
'their child continues to be funded for a time'?
Yes, and I won't claim to be an expert on the English offer, but, from our understanding, the grace period allows a child to continue to be funded for a short period should their parent become ineligible, so if they have a cut in their hours at work or if they lose their job. It's not clear, as I read it from the explanatory memorandum, whether that kind of grace period will be included in the Welsh offer or whether consideration is being given to, 'Is that grace period needed?' We, on the face of it, would suggest that a grace period seems like a sensible thing to include, especially in the context of quite a volatile job market.
I believe there is a grace period. Didn't the Minister tell us there was going to be a grace period?
I'm not aware of that, but we can—
It might have been in conversation, but I think that that is certainly being thought about. So, how long is the grace period in the English scheme? Do you know?
I think, or I'm told—let me just tell you now. So, it depends on when the household becomes ineligible. If it occurs in the first half of a term then funding is provided to the end of that term. If it occurs in the second half of that term then the grace period runs to the end of the following term. That's what I'm reading. So, that seems reasonably sensible and sufficiently generous to allow somebody to kind of reassess their work options.
Okay, thank you. Are there any other questions from Members? No. Okay, well can I thank you very much for your attendance and for answering all our questions? You will be sent a transcript to check for accuracy following the meeting. Thank you very much.
Okay, we'll move on then. I'm very pleased to welcome Phil Mattacks, who is tax-free childcare design, engagement and roll-out team, transformation—well, he's not the team; he's from the team. [Laughter.] So, thank you very much for attending this morning. If you're happy, we'll go straight into questions from Members. The first questions are from Hefin David.
We're a little bit concerned about some of the lack of detail on the face of the Bill. So much of the application of the Bill is left to regulations, including such matters as the description of qualifying children of working parents. So, on what basis, therefore, are you able to be confident that HMRC can deliver the administration of eligibility assessments given that lack of detail on the face of the Bill?
It's quite normal to have details set out in regulations. Obviously, that's a matter for the Welsh Government to decide what the balance is. A lot of the things that you're talking about there are, for instance, already described in regulations in the English scheme. So, a lot of the definition of what is a qualifying child of working parents sits in the regulations for the scheme in England, where it sets out that the child must be three before the start of the term and has not over-reached compulsory school age. Those details will be the same for the Welsh scheme. So, we've already done it for England, on a similar basis, and we're confident we can do it for Wales.
When you were a technical adviser to the Department for Education in England, that Childcare Act 2016 legislation included on the face of the Act that free childcare for qualifying children of working parents would be provided for 30 hours, 38 weeks of the year, but that isn't in the detail of this Bill. Do you think that's a concern, or do you equally feel that there's flexibility in the regulation?
No. That's something that constrains the Department for Education in England to always do that. The Welsh Government has allowed itself potentially a little more flexibility. But I don't think it's a concern for us, no.
The regulations won't be the same in Wales and England, or at least we certainly don't know that that's the case.
They won't be exactly the same, no.
But you've just given us assurances that you're confident that you can manage with things because they are the same, and yet we're being told they're not going to be.
They won't be exactly the same. The schemes are likely to be broadly similar. We're delivering the scheme in England against regulations set out in England. Unless they're substantially different, I can't see why it would be an issue.
Okay, but you recognise there's potential for them to be substantially different because, obviously, the regulations are not before us and we haven't had the opportunity to consider them; nor have you, Mr Mattacks.
Indeed; that's because they haven't been written yet, as far as I know. We know the scheme is being trialled in Welsh local authorities at the moment, and we've spoken to the Welsh Government about what sort of scheme they're looking to provide. A lot of these things need to be sorted out when we go through the discovery phase of what tweaks we need to make to the childcare service to actually provide the Welsh version of the scheme. They don't have to be exactly the same, but obviously, any parts that are different will need to be tweaked. I know that's another thing on the list of things you're likely to ask about. Obviously, any differences would need to be paid for. They might make the scheme more difficult to deliver, but we'll just talk between us and the Welsh Government to sort it out.
I know that the Welsh Government have obviously had extensive discussions with you about HMRC's involvement in the new childcare offer, but there hasn't been any discussion whatsoever with parents about whether they would like to see HMRC responsible for assisting with this. Do you think that that's appropriate?
Well, that's a matter for the Welsh Government, not for us.
Well, it's always helpful to know what parents think. When we're doing any changes to our screens, when parents go through online applications, we will always do extensive user testing with parents and take parents' views into account and make sure that the screens are doing the job they're designed to.
So, do you think there's scope for user testing or, preferably, a full consultation with parents, about whether you're an appropriate provider to assist the Welsh Government with this?
Well, again, that's for the Welsh Government to decide. In the context of us providing the service, we would always consult with parents and make sure that the product we're offering is what they need and will get them what they want. But if we're not going to be the provider—well, that's up to the Welsh Government.
You made reference earlier on to the pilots that are going on in local authority areas. To what extent have you been able to engage with those in terms of trying to get information about how your operation might be impacted should you take on those responsibilities?
Well, we get occasional questions from people in the pilot to see how it would be done in England and whether it's appropriate for similar things to be done in Wales, and to talk through underlying issues like the impacts of parenting leave law and things like that.
Yes. Back in 2017, HMRC set up the childcare service compensation scheme, which allowed parents affected by some of those technical issues over the border in England to apply for a refund of reasonable costs as a result of the system not working in a way that it ought to have worked, or if there were delays or mistakes in terms of the amounts that had been paid to them. Given that we've had those problems in England—quite significant problems in many respects—how can we be confident that there won't be a repeat of those over here, and that the actual costs to the taxpayer won't be much higher because of the compensation that may have to be paid as a result of errors and botches by your department?
Certainly, there were some teething problems when the childcare service was first opened, but we've been improving the service since then. The service is getting better, the parent satisfaction level with the service is going up, and if we are paying people complaints redress because of a poor service, that would be HMRC paying, not the Welsh Government.
Well, it would be UK taxpayers, and we do not—
We do not give taxpayers a poor service. We provide a good service, and, as I say, the service is improving steadily as we go along.
So, how do you monitor the service user feedback? You said that rates of satisfaction are going up. What evidence do you have for that? Have you got surveys? Can you share those with us?
Yes, we talk to parents and we gather parent feedback at the end of the customer journeys, as they go through the system.
So, have you got any documentary evidence to show us? What are the rates, at the moment, of satisfaction—are they 50 per cent, 60 per cent?
I believe the customer satisfaction rate is well over 80 per cent at the moment.
For those parents who are receiving support under the English scheme.
Well, for the childcare service. More parents are using the childcare service for 30 hours than for tax-free childcare at the moment.
Okay. It would be helpful, I think, if you were able to share the satisfaction rates with us.
Okay. I can certainly try and find some suitable evidence and send it on.
This parent's satisfaction is increasing following receipt of this document—a cheque from HMRC yesterday. [Laughter.] It relates to the UK tax-free childcare scheme, and I'm eligible for this in Wales as I would be in England. I just wonder if there's some confusion about the extent to which there have been problems with the England-only roll-out of the more extensive childcare offer versus the UK tax-free childcare. Which of those has HMRC had problems with, and what has the relative extent of those problems been?
It's a single application journey. So, a parent will go in, enter their details only once, and because the eligibility rules for tax-free childcare and 30 hours in England are reasonably closely aligned—they're not exactly the same, but they're pretty closely aligned—then we'll make a decision on both schemes based on that one customer journey. So, if a parent is eligible for both, then their customer satisfaction would be the same for both, because they've got the same journey leading to the same outcomes.
Okay. So, having already been through this scheme for UK tax-free childcare, once this scheme starts in Wales, will I need to go through it again to access the Wales-only 48 weeks a year, 30 hours a week?
For instance, if I refer to how it would work with an English child reaching three, it would have a tax-free childcare account, then at the appropriate reconfirmation point, which is up to 16 weeks before the child turns three, so that you're sure to have your eligibility code in hand by the time you need it, we'll assess whether you're in England and meet the requirements for that, and we'll give the parent the code at that stage. So, it would just come through at the appropriate reconfirmation point, as the child reaches three. If the parent is only coming in to apply with 30 hours in mind, then, obviously, they won't do so until the child is three or is almost three. But, again, that would just be a single journey affecting both schemes.
And can I just focus a bit on eligibility differences? I'm just a bit nervous, when we're introducing these schemes, that if we diverge significantly from what was done with 30 hours in England, or with the UK tax-free childcare, that that will increase the risk of teething problems to a greater or lesser degree with the system through HMRC. We've got this £100,000 cut-off; we've got this minimum hours and income from that eligibility, which, to my mind, seems to be the same as the UK tax-free childcare. Is there anything you're aware of that we're proposing to do differently in the Wales scheme that may create challenges for HMRC, or additional costs when setting it up?
I'm not aware of anything that the Wales scheme would do differently to the English scheme. The English scheme has some things that are different to tax-free childcare. For instance, you can be on benefits and still get the English 30 hours, whereas if you want to use tax-free childcare, you have to give up your benefits. But assuming those sorts of differences will be the same for Wales, I'm not currently aware of any major differences with what the Welsh Government is intending in terms of the eligibility rules for Welsh parents.
Before you carry on, can you just clarify what you said about the fact that you can be on benefits in England and still get the 30 hours? Which benefits would you be able to be on and still be eligible for the free childcare?
Tax credits, universal credit—all major benefits.
Those are in-work benefits. Tax credits and universal credit are both in-work benefits.
When a parent gets the HMRC code confirming they're eligible in England, why do they then need to go to a local authority portal to make sure the person is eligible? What's the purpose of that additional stage, and are we planning to have that in Wales, as far as you understand?
HMRC's role is only to gather the applications to determine whether those applications are valid, and then to inform the parent and the local authority of that fact. It's up to the local authority to provide the childcare from local childcare resources. So, the parent goes to a childcare provider, who goes to a local authority, and they need to confirm that that is an eligible parent with an eligible child turning up asking for childcare. So, they match the codes and that confirms that this is an eligible child.
And in Wales, do you expect that stage to be done by the local authority or by Welsh Government?
That's up to the Welsh Government.
Well, if it was working the same as England, then the Welsh Government would make available to Welsh local authorities a list of all the parents who have a current valid code, and that is provided for within the Bill, which allows for HMRC to provide information to local authorities in Wales, as we do in England.
And the data sharing gateway that we refer to in the Bill—do you understand that to be the mechanism that you're currently using in England for both the 30 hours and UK-wide for the tax-free childcare?
Yes. Basically, we already have access to all the information on an ordinary day-to-day basis. All it's trying to do is make that on a proper legal footing, because HMRC will not have formal functions under the Welsh Bill.
And what are the challenges and risks of HMRC acting as an agent for Welsh Government under our Bill, compared to the explicit role that you have through the legislation in England?
Well, on a day-to-day basis, it's basically the same. Once the regulations setting out the eligibility are made in Wales, then we'll be accepting applications on a day-to-day basis, judging them against the eligibility criteria, using our data and data from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Home Office. So, that's kind of the same thing. In both cases, there will be a memorandum of understanding between the parties, setting out what HMRC will do, and for how much, what the obligations of both parties are and how it would be approached if anything were to change.
As a parent I understand, and I think I have confidence in, the HMRC processes for protecting my tax, or in this case a tax refund for tax-free childcare. In Wales, Welsh Ministers will have a role that UK Government Ministers do not—is that correct, and what mechanisms are then in place to ensure—
Sorry, I'm not sure I quite got that question.
So, the HMRC data, and how you're acting in England—and I think for the UK tax-free childcare—my data is protected and is looked after by HMRC, and HMRC is an arm's-length organisation of UK Government. In Wales, am I correct to understand that the legislation will in addition be allowing Welsh Ministers access to data that the legislation in England retains to HMRC?
It's allowing the Welsh Government access to the data so that HMRC can use it in the way that we always use it. There's not envisaged to be any practical change in the way the data is used.
But because Welsh Government are using you as an agent, rather than you being specified on the Bill, the data-sharing legislative framework includes Welsh Ministers in a way that it doesn't for UK Ministers in the other schemes.
When those regulations setting out the data gateways are put together, those regulations will be subject to the consent of all the UK Ministers whose data is being used, and HMRC will want to make sure that the data cannot be passed on and used in an inappropriate way. It's because of the right of the Treasury to have consent over those regulations that we feel able to—. So, we're not just giving the data to the Welsh Government and they can do with it as they wish. So, that will be covered in those regulations.
Okay. Can you foresee any circumstances in which HMRC would not be prepared to act as an agent for Welsh Government?
That's a very 'what if' kind of question. You can never say never, but given what we understand of the scheme, then we can't see any reason why we can't deliver it and why we wouldn't want to deliver it.
And can you expand on your role in relation to penalties and appeals under the Bill?
Yes. Basically, because HMRC is collecting the data and making the decisions on eligibility and also decisions as to whether parents have been careless, or worse, in the information they've given to us, it makes sense for HMRC to decide whether any penalty is due, and if so, how much it should be, and also to defend any reviews and appeals, because it's our decision that is being reviewed and appealed. It would make no sense at all for HMRC to have to give that information over to the Welsh Government to then defend an appeal of a decision that they hadn't actually made in practice. So, that's why HMRC has the role of first making the decision and then reviewing any cases where the parent is not happy with that decision under a normal mandatory review system. By 'mandatory', I don't mean parents have to query decisions even if they agree with them; it's 'mandatory' as in you have to have a review before you can pass on to an appeal. And then defending any appeals, because it's all based on the decisions we will have made with our data.
Finally from me, your Welsh language scheme was last revised in 2012. Are you confident that this will be fit for purpose for administering this scheme?
I'm not sure the question is quite right here. Because HMRC won't have any functions, HMRC's Welsh language scheme won't be particularly relevant to how we deliver as agents of the Welsh Government.
But won't parents be putting information into your portal? When they want to put that in in Welsh and when they want to have telephone and IT support in Welsh—
What I'm meaning is that, because HMRC will be acting as agents of and representing the Welsh Government, the rules applicable to the Welsh Government will apply to the Welsh language, rather than the rules applicable to HMRC.
Okay, and are you confident you can comply with those appropriately?
I've been making my colleagues clear for some time that we do need to be more bilingual when we're representing the Welsh Government than maybe we might have to when we were just being HMRC.